The Untold Story of my Debarking Bar.
Debarking bars are perhaps an old fashioned tool that is used to debark logs. Debarking logs is perhaps not as common as it used to be but I certainly still occasionally use mine and saw it today as I usually do. It is like a small crowbar. All the ones that I've seen are hand made and I've never seen one for sale in a hardware shop.

It was probably my grandfather who gave me my love of trees and yet I know little of his life. Strange to relate, but within days of completing this draft, my sister gave me a copy of only a few page diary that my grandfather started to keep when he travelled back to England to visit my grandmother’s relatives after a gap of 33 years. I didn’t even know of its existence until just very recently. In it he writes the words, “the value and beauty of trees” which is then repeated. Words which to me now seem prophetic. I can remember their departure and being in their cabin which is just mentioned. At the time, I was only 2 years and 11 months old which must make it my earliest verifiable memory.

I’ve had the chance to speak to three old soldiers from the Great War. Perhaps the one who told me the most was my grandfather in law. He twice drove up from Sydney to visit us when I was married and on the last occasion to see our newly born baby daughter. He said that he hadn’t taken the war seriously until he was marching up to the front for the first time and passed a cemetery with all its white crosses. He then realised it was a serious business. He said that he was very lucky to have survived. Once in a trench and sheltering under a sheet of galvanized iron, a shell landed beside him but didn’t explode because of all the mud. If it had gone off, it would have been the end of him. He was a gunner and in 1917 while involved in the terrible battle of Passchendaele, one of his mates was injured out in no man’s land. He goes out to rescue him and carries him back to a casualty station. While there they observe blood running down his leg. Upon inspection, it is revealed that he has been shot in the lower leg. The bullet passing between his calf muscle and the bone. He then goes off injured. To quote his exact words, “the atmosphere was so thick, I just didn’t feel a thing.” The next day, all his gun crew is blown up.

He told me that he was involved in an incident that became a controversy. Late in the war, he is in the trenches when the Red Baron flies over his section of the line in his red Focker triplane in hot pursuit of another plane with yet another British plane behind. He grabs a Lewis machine gun and fires at him as he races over head. The Red Baron then crashes or lands [it is disputed] 100 yards away. Apparently a book was written entitled something like, “Who Shot Down the Red Baron?”. Ron Brooks, my grandfather in law said that the author interviewed him about the incident and that he is mentioned in the text. I haven’t looked it up to see what it says. Recently I saw a BBC documentary on the TV about this incident and the controversy surrounding it that contained some re enactments. In this they interviewed several Australian soldiers who were holding a Lewis gun and they gave their account of the event in a comic broad Australian accent. I imagined that one of them was playing the part of Ron Brooks, gunner.

As a young child, my parents took my daughter to Sydney for a visit. While there, I wanted her to meet her great grandfather but I was told that it wouldn’t be possible. He had become too old and decrepit. On the first night of her being in Sydney, he died. It turned out not to be possible after all.

I met on a few occasions, Jack Burrows an old friend of the family. As it turned out, he enlisted about the same time as my grandfather, they sailed together on the same ship arriving in Egypt as reinforcements for the Gallipoli campaign and camped at Helipolis at the foot of the pyramids. Both went on to France in 1916 for the Battle of the Somme, my grandfather at Poziers and Jack at Frommers. These are both very severe battles with many Australian losses where both were promoted to officers in the infantry. For my grandfather, officers training school was at Oxford University which must have been quite a change from the family blacksmith shop in Rosewood which was where my grandfather commenced his working life. Both married English girls from London and both returned to Australia in the same ship which is where they met. They arrived just a few days before 1920. Both worked for the PMG and lived in adjoining suburbs in Brisbane. Jack lived a healthy life until he was over 100 years old and most of that time in the same house. He didn’t speak much of his experiences but he did say that in 1918 during the great German offensive, they were marched in to hold the line. The British army was in a chaotic retreat. My mother told me that this was where he won the Military Cross but this as it turns out was just a myth. Yes, the Australian soldiers held the line. He said that at the end of the war that he was, “totally wrecked” [meaning mentally and physically]. He said that on the morning of the Armistice, their line was being shelled right up to the last minute and people were still being killed.

When my grandmother was dying in hospital, there was a wreck of a lady in the bed beside her. She had completely lost her mind and was totally incoherent. I was told that her husband had died on the morning of the 11th November 1918. What a horror it must have been to hear of the signing of the Armistice and then to learn a few days later that your husband was one of the very last to have lost his life on that very morning.

My grandfather probably had the most difficult war of all if that can be imagined. His battalion had the second highest number of casualties of the Australians. Something like three thousand or was it five thousand in a full strength of a thousand. Sometimes their numbers fell to as low as 300 but they still had to fill the line as if they were of full strength. He died when I was quite young and I didn’t really get to speak to him about it. I did ask him a few childish questions and he did answer them but I was told very firmly by my mother that “the war must never be discussed”. I did pick up a few things along the way though. When my grandfather had a headache, I was told that was because he still had some shrapnel stuck in his head. I’m sure that this couldn’t be true but it all added to the unspoken family myth. I have a copy of his medical history. He was injured at Bapaume, a few days after returning to the front as an officer. A bullet graze to the face and an injury to his elbow. My grandmother was psychologically unstable and the families’ main role was to keep this under control as much as possible. She did have an older brother who also served. I was told that he was injured twice. On one occasion, while lying on a stretcher and waiting to be loaded on to a ship to be returned to England, his father comes across him while working on the docks. In the next war, I was told that their family’s London home was bombed by what I was told was a “direct hit” and totally destroyed in the blitz of 1940.

Never to mention the war was almost normal at the time but I have picked up a few bits of information along the way. A book was written about my grandfather’s battalion by one of the officers. It is full of platitudes and jingoism but there is mentioned one act of kindness that my grandfather was responsible for. It involved sending up to the front line some dry socks that the soldiers appreciated in those difficult and muddy circumstances.

I still own a few remnants from the war. His three volumes paybook, book two still covered in the now dried mud from Passchendaele and a few photos and some postcards. Some of these have been donated to the war memorial. One of the post cards was of interest to them because it was written in French since apparently he made an effort to learn the language while there.

When my grandfather left school at 12 years, he worked at his grandfather’s blacksmith shop at Rosewood. When he enlisted, he put down his trades as blacksmithing and engineering. By 1915 he was a qualified engineer with the PMG. On returning to Brisbane just a few days short of 1920, they live at Wellington Point near his parents’ farm. He becomes a vegetarian and travels daily by train to the city for work. He then buys a house closer to the city at Greenslopes because I’m told “he can’t stand the smell of the abattoir the train goes past”. He also joins the Theosophical Society and makes a serious study of the worlds beyond. Years later, both grand parents have now died and I’m looking at a very few things under the house at Greenslopes. One of the things that was there was a rather rare tool called a debarking bar. [A tool for removing bark from logs]. You can see by looking at it that it has been hand made in a blacksmith’s forge. I plant and grow trees on my farm for timber here in Cedar Pocket and this tool is most useful for me. Whenever I use it, I can’t help but wonder about the coincidence as to how and why it was made and how it got to be underneath their suburban house for me to find and use, years later. It was probably my grandfather who gave me a love of trees and often took me for walks. I also wonder about all those other untold stories and incidents, many of which though were probably even beyond the finding of words to describe.